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Lore and Consequences: Toshiro Umezawa vs. Michiko Konda

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Before the land was bathed in neon light,

Kamigawa was a battlefield of mortal versus mystical

Say, what's that sharp scent in the air?

When it comes to Kamigawa, a plane inspired by Japanese folklore, I've come to expect the aroma of choji oil and incense. Steel honor crossed with spiritual presence. A fusion that could only occur in a realm where the veil between human and spirit world grows thinner by the day.

Only now, there's a novel twinge to the mix. One of motor oil, silicone, and the faintest trace of ozone. The smells of a digital age. Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, in all its cyberpunk glory, is nearly upon us. What happens when you bring a feudal realm of legends into the future? We're all about to find out.

Toshiro Umezawa
Satoru Umezawa
Family-Reunion, or perhaps Ancestor-Reunion?

Welcome back, fellow adventurers, to Lore and Consequences, where we delve into Magic's history books and research the tales behind this crazy card game. With the release of classic Kamigawa Block, players were introduced to a Legend-centric degree of storytelling not seen since the ancient days of Legends, itself. Champions, Betrayers, and Saviors of Kamigawa featured heavy set design around legendary permanents, so it's no surprise subsequent storylines were so rich. So many heroes and villains were involved that a few central characters have yet to appear in cardboard form!

Kitsune Diviner by Pete Venters

You'll get your day eventually, Lady Pearl-Ear

With so many characters and three novels to cover, storytelling potential is gargantuan. And with it, deck-building possibilities. Few formats so deftly blend flavor and function as Commander, where you literally recruit a historical figure to lead your army. But what's the connection between these legendary cards and their actual legends? It is possible to build decks in such a way that we can see these stories play out in the course of a game? Or, if we prefer to take a more active hand, meddle with the fate of our heroes and villains?

Heartless Hidetsugu
Kami of the Crescent Moon
Myojin of Night's Reach
And there are many to choose from.

Today, we'll delve into the ancient lore of Magic: The Gathering and fuse it with our deck-building. The resulting Frankenstein's monster will be a pair of fully playable Commander decks, complete with themes and synergies, that also recount a story from Magic's fabled past. All card and deck-building choices will serve to tell the tale, allowing you to regale your playgroup (while you simultaneously crush them).

So, join me, brave brewer, on this quest to recreate the past. And win while doing so.

Champions of Kamigawa kicks things off with a war sparked decades earlier. For most of Kamigawa's history, mankind and the spirit-realm were separated. The otherworldly kami that did cross the veil into the mortal world were mostly harmless. So, what offense must've been egregious enough to turn the spirits hostile on a planar-wide scale? One that'll bring both mortal forces of darkness and light together to correct it.

Toshiro Umezawa by Christopher Moeller

He's here to save the world, so long as it's convenient and involves a hefty paycheck.

-VS-

Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker by Christopher Moeller

She takes the term 'bearing the sins of the father' to a whole new level.

So, get ready, hone that katana to a perfect edge, and let's see what adventure the arcane world of Kamigawa has in store for us!

But first, some ground rules...

1. Function comes first:

Our mission is to design playable Commander decks that not only detail story arcs, but also seek to win the game. Konda, Lord of Eiganjo may be a key antagonist, but his card leaves little to build around. Bushido is far more suited to Limited than Commander. Tough to win a game of Commander with a great blocker, especially one that costs seven mana. If we really wanted to build Samurai-tribal, Konda's second-in-command, Takeno, Samurai General, at least provides something more to work with, but there are woefully few on-color samurai to fill out the ranks. Just because a card helps tell the story doesn't mean it's an automatic pick for a Commander general.

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo

Rocky times ahead. You'll get that joke later, folks.

2. Flavor still dictates card selection:

A card's connection to Magic lore may disqualify it from this experiment. Instant-happy Toshiro Umezawa would love access to Vona's Hunger, Hagra Mauling // Hagra Broodpit, or Olivia's Midnight Ambush, but each is linked to a location far from Kamigawa. Cards can only reference planes/characters they're organically linked to. Toshiro still has access to his trusty Umezawa's Jitte, but don't expect the likes of Sunforger, Sword of Kaldra, or Shadowspear . Depending on how much "narrative vs. competitive" matters to you personally, I leave it up to you to tinker with the builds as you see fit. Commander is all about creativity, after all.

Sunforger
Sword of Kaldra
Shadowspear
These are all directly linked to the worlds they hail from.

3. That said, if a card could exist on another plane, it's totally up for grabs:

Today's tale may not involve Amonkhet, but I see no reason something like Scavenger Grounds is out of bounds. Such an environment could feasibly appear in many worlds, and the graveyard hate it provides is an important tool for a Commander deck to have in its pocket. We're allowing wiggle-room when picking cards that could feasibly slide into any narrative. No reason that Loyal Warhound has to remain stuck within The Forgotten Realms.

Isamaru, Hound of Konda

After all, plenty of good puppers on Kamigawa.

All righty, enough with the rules. Time to unravel an ancient scroll, brush off a thousand years of dust, and research The Great Kami War.

"Outlaw - Champions of Kamigawa" by Scott McGough

We begin our tale twenty years ago, on the eve of Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker's birth. Lady Pearl-Ear, a Kitsune attendant to the emperor, breaks the happy news to daddy Konda, Lord of Eiganjo. He merely shrugs. As of late, a change has come over the great noble. His once revered Honden of Cleansing Fire has become replaced with a newfound object. One he seems utterly obsessed with. Lady Pearl-Ear knows not where it came from, or even what it is, but gets the impression Konda's got a dark secret.

That Which Was Taken

Real inconspicuous, guys.

That day would become renowned for two historic events: The birth of Princess Michiko, and the start of the Great Kami War.

Toshiro Umezawa
Marrow-Gnawer
Soratami Mirror-Guard

Present day, and once-benign kami have laid waste to much of the land. For two decades, mankind has been at war. One that leaves ample corpses, ripe for looting. A thieving Toshiro Umezawa trails the gang of Nezumi crimelord Marrow-Gnawer, expecting to steal from their scavenging, but soon finds himself in over his head. Marrow-Gnawer and company were hired by Soratami, intelligent beings much of the plane refers to as Moonfolk. Never one to risk his own skin if he can help it, Toshiro makes a quick escape via his Umezawa's Jitte, with which he can draw a variety of useful kanji charms with countless functions. Think arcane multi-tool.

Umezawa's Jitte

Flavor and function, hand in hand

Toshiro makes it home, running into Kiku, Night's Flower along the way, only to find the Moonfolk have followed him. Another escape ensues, and with it, Toshiro receives an omen that bad things are afoot with the Moonfolk. That already seemed obvious, but I guess it doesn't hurt. He sets off to meet with blood-brother Heartless Hidetsugu, a charming fellow who founded the rogue-guild Hyozan Reckoners with Toshiro years prior. The two are oath-bound to protect each other, as are any members of the Reckoners, but make no mistake: these guys are all cutthroats. We're very much in "Pirate's Code" territory here, folks.

Heartless Hidetsugu by Carl Critchlow

This guy seems real trustworthy

Heartless Hidetsugu is that friend we all worry about hanging out with. Sure, they're fun, but there's always the chance said fun could ruin our lives. It's the friend who doesn't know the meaning of the term "too far". Hidetsugu already worships oni, Kamigawa's demons, so there's one red flag, right there. He also has a habit of 'training' apprentices via lethal methods. Most don't make it past a week, though his latest scar-strewn pupil, Humble Budoka Kobo, has proven reliably durable against his master's abuse. The ogre pairs Toshiro with his battered protege and sends the duo off to the forests of Jukai to find more Budoka monks for help. In their journey, the two catch wind of a bandit/goblin alliance hell-bent on using the Myojin of Infinite Rage to end the Kami war. Sounds good. Until they learn that only the followers of the Myojin will be left standing after the dust settles. That's bad. Toshiro and Kobo are able to fend off a fiery kami assault, but only barely. All manner of conspiracy seems afoot. Oh well, on to Jukai!

Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker

Jumping across the world, we catch up with a young Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker. She's hosting buddies Choryu and Riko, both wizardry students at Minamo, School at Water's Edge at Eiganjo Castle. Before a single White Claw can be cracked, their undergrad party is cut short via kami attack. This is especially concerning, as kami have thus far not been able to manifest within the castle walls. Lady Pearl-Ear and her brother Sharp-Ear save the trio, but the message is clear: the kami are getting more plentiful. More aggressive. They're winning, and if they can breach the castle regularly, it won't be long before it falls. Konda, Lord of Eiganjo stubbornly refuses to budge, believing they can still win the war, but Michiko decides to take matters into her own hands. Her, Choryu, and Riku go into full "Harry Potter" mode and team up to save the day with their magical skills. They manage to sneak out of the castle, but are tricked by Sharp-Ear (their unintentional chaperone) and misled into a nearby Kitsune village so he can safely reroute them back to the castle.

Like any well-laid plan in the Magic the Gathering universe, things go to hell almost immediately.

Kitsune Blademaster
Akki Raider
Nagao, Bound by Honor

A horde of Akki, Kamigawa's goblins, are marching towards the village. Samurai led by Nagao, Bound by Honor arrive, but they're hardly the cavalry. They think Sharp-Ear helped Michiko escape the castle and are looking to arrest the poor fox. The advancing goblin army quickly rewrites Nagao's book of priorities, and he and his fellow warriors depart to ambush the akki before they can reach town. As samurai and goblin duke it out, our band of heroes is shown a vision to seek out the Orochi, Snakefolk of the Jukai forests. Somehow a meeting of Michiko and the Orochi is pivotal toward ending this ever-escalating war. But no one is quite sure how.

Once in Jukai, both sets of characters meet and join forces. It's now up to this motley band of adventurers to uncover the mystery of the Great Kami War. A great many questions lie ahead, so I'll leave the remainder of Outlaw open for you to explore.

I've made sure to avoid spoilers, and trust me, there are many to be had...

What are the Kami getting more aggressive?

What turned them malevolent all those years ago?

And who among our heroes can't be trusted?

Many a question lies unresolved, and we're not even at Betrayers of Kamigawa, yet. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's stop and explore our main protagonists.

On one hand, we've Toshiro Umezawa, a talented fighter with quick wits and a devastatingly-flexible Jitte. Toshiro isn't looking to save the world and has no qualms about spilling enemy blood. In true Mono-Black fashion, he's looking out for Number 1. Make no mistake, this isn't a 'rogue with a heart of gold' style protagonist a la Jack Sparrow. Toshiro is a dangerous guy who just so happens to be on the side of humanity on this occasion.

Umezawa's Charm

On the other, Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker is the polar opposite in both character and ability. Thoughtful, but naive. Brave, but inexperienced. Her intensions are pure, wanting to save the world for all inhabitants of Kamigawa, be they mortal or spirit. But her journey is only just beginning, her potential unrealized. In the end, she'll discover a power within that rivals the greatest of Kami, but this is only the start of her classic Joseph Campbell "Hero's Journey".

Enduring Ideal

Once these unlikely allies meet at the Commander table, how might their diametric viewpoints clash?

Get ready for battle - Choose your character!

Toshiro Umezawa


Mono-Black certainly has no problem with creature-removal. It's arsenal of instant-speed kill spells is vast, giving Toshiro Umezawa a lot of ammunition. His 'mini-Yawgmoth's Will' requires opposing creatures to die, so we'll want to bring in ample removal to get the most advantage. We'll also want instant-speed card advantage to keep our hand (and subsequently, graveyard) full. Gotta keep writing those killer kanji, after all. Keeping the field free of enemy creatures keeps us alive and allows our team to attack unhindered. In short, our strategy is to lock up and control what creatures live and die, grinding out value along the way.

Kiku, Night's Flower
Morbid Opportunist
Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker

Assassin's Guild: Starting off with creatures, we first want a vicious pack of death-dealers to keep Toshiro active. The likes of Royal Assassin, Big Game Hunter, Hooded Assassin, and Kiku, Night's Flower compose a wretched posse to eliminate threats. Supporting them are Blood Artist and Morbid Opportunist to profit off the assassinations. Nicely, with each of these cut throats having 1-or-less power, Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker is happy to resurrect them during your endstep. Dread Presence misses this party, but easily makes up for it with repeated card draw and/or drain effects.

Marrow-Gnawer
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
Piper of the Swarm

As we learned in the story recap, Toshiro Umezawa is no stranger to the Nezumi. His swampy home and encounter with Marrow-Gnawer set a thematic stage for a rat tribal mini- theme. Ogre Slumlord, Piper of the Swarm, Ratcatcher, and the aforementioned Marrow-Gnawer generate multiple forces to swarm over opponents. Attrition goes quite well with rat numerous tokens. Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni can sneak her way onto the field, stealing fallen creatures and bouncing cards like Big Game Hunter and Hooded Assassin back to your hand. Finally, the deceptively-powerful Crypt Rats can easily act as a mini-wrath if things get out of control.

Myojin of Night's Reach

Lastly, though expensive, Myojin of Night's Reach plays a large story role later on and can be a serious headache for opponents. Threatening instant-speed mass-discard is sure to bring quite a few bargaining chips to the politics table.

Slaughter Pact
Snuff Out
Malicious Affliction

Instant Elimination: Naturally, our spell-suite leans heavily on Instants. Targeted removal is the most organic inclusion, triggering Toshiro Umezawa's ability on its own, then immediately going to the graveyard for a second use. We don't want to spend too much mana on the initial spell. We'll want mana left over to cast something from the graveyard, so inexpensive or alt-cost removal like Deadly Rollick, Slaughter Pact, Snuff Out, Force of Negation, Vendetta, Tragic Slip, Fatal Push, and Defile is preferred. That said, recycling spells makes cards that are already two-for-ones like Curtain's Call, Malicious Affliction, and Soul Shatter especially potent.

Imp's Mischief
Hatred
Thrilling Encore

Toshiro Umezawa always has plenty of tricks at his disposal. Killing things is good, but sometimes finesse is the best solution to one's problems. Cards like Imp's Mischief and Withering Boon nullify scary opposing spells, while Grim Return and Thrilling Encore allow you to steal former victims. Or, if you tire of such complications, you could simply one-shot an opponent with a timely Hatred. Just watch that life total!

Vampiric Tutor
Necrologia
Moonlight Bargain

We next bring in a plethora of card-draw to help keep the train moving. Getting to recycle cards like Entomb and Vampiric Tutor provides truly ridiculous value, as do cards like Stinging Study and Necrologia that draw huge swaths at a time. Even run of the mill draw like Succumb to Temptation, Bladebrand and Blood Pact does a ton of work when it effectively has Flashback built in.

Black Market
Primal Amulet
Court of Ambition

Finally, with death rays flying left and right, Black Market and Primal Amulet can amass counters very quickly. Keeping the board clear also helps us keep Court of Ambition at its fullest, nastiest potential. And of course, we can't leave Toshiro's signature Umezawa's Jitte on the cutting room floor!

Rise of the Dark Realms
Mutilate
Feed the Swarm

Supporting Spells: Devoting most of our spellbook to instants means only the most necessary Sorceries warrant inclusion. We've plenty of targeted removal, but mass removal like Toxic Deluge and Mutilate are important reset buttons. Similarly, Mono-Black has very few ways to handle Enchantments, so Feed the Swarm is a necessary evil. Especially when it comes to dealing with our Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker build, but we'll get there in a minute. Finally, our propensity to fill graveyards makes Rise of the Dark Realms an excellent win condition.

Extraplanar Lens
Expedition Map
Sol Ring

Ramp and Lands: It's downright painful to run a Swamp-heavy deck without Cabal Coffers, but it's against lore-bound rules, so we'll have to adapt. For a start, combining Extraplanar Lens with Snow-Covered Swamps allows our basics to tap for double-mana while preventing regular Swamps from doing so. This works because Extraplanar Lens looks at the exact name of the imprinted card, so unless opponents are also running Snow-Covered Swamps, only you should be getting the benefit. The remainder of our ramp comes in the form of classic rocks: Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Expedition Map, Thought Vessel, etc.

Lake of the Dead
Shizo, Death's Storehouse
Miren, the Moaning Well

Our mana base is primary composed of the aforementioned Snow-Covered Swamps, but we also bring in big-mana lands like Lake of the Dead, Ancient Tomb, and Lotus Field to make up for the loss of Cabal Coffers. Lotus Field can be useful if ever we manage to steal an opposing creature with an off-color ability using Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni or Piper of the Swarm.Shizo, Death's Storehouse offers a potent combination with Hatred, and just in case we run out of creatures to kill, Forbidden Orchard can gift an opponent free fodder for us to target later on.

With jitte firmly in hand, it seems like Toshiro Umezawa is ready for anything you could throw at him. It's no wonder he's survived in the Takenuma swamps for this long. Cunning and raw power are a potent combination. How could Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker possibly stand against it? Let's find out.

Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker

Michiko Konda | Commander | Matthew Lotti


Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker may not be a warrior, but she did grow up daughter to a ruthless Daimyo. A life molded at court, steeped in politics and diplomacy. Inexperienced as Michiko may be, she's still a ruler in the making, able to employ graceful wit and artful influence with a smile. If she can't fight her opposition, she'll take the Tyrion Lannister approach: Out-think them. Her strategy is one of establishing royal dominance, acting the rattlesnake, blunting threats as they come, encouraging enemies to point their swords elsewhere, and even tricking the opposition into lending her its own tools. She has an entire Monarchy on her side, a mechanic that rewards our strategy.

Oh, and she's also a No Mercy on legs.

Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant
Eight-and-a-Half-Tails
Serene Master

Ever-Loyal Yojimbo: Michiko, alone, discourages folks from attacking us. Adding to that, her bodyguards are also the finest in the kingdom, with each providing a unique form of protection. Serene Master, Selfless Squire, Windborn Muse, and Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendent all dissuade or downright blunt opposing armies. A single Rune-Tail can transform a team into a wall of shields. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails color-warping not only helps with blocking, but also guards the team against targeted removal or damage-based sweepers like Blasphemous Act. Finally, expensive as he may be, we'd be remiss to exclude Konda, Lord of Eiganjo from the 99, at the very least. He's certainly a tough-to-remove blocker who discourages attacks.

Palace Jailer
Bladegriff Prototype
Myojin of Cleansing Fire

In the event defensive tactics are insufficient, a more aggressive form of diplomacy is called for. Palace Jailer removes threats while handing us the Monarch, which our heavy defenses enable us to keep. Myojin of Cleaning Fire can act as a large wall, but will more likely serve as a wrath-in-a-can. Plenty of political potential there, especially when combined with That Which Was Taken, which turns the deity into a veritable soft-lock win con. This is especially true if Soul of Eternity is hanging around your graveyard. Speaking of politics, if ever a problem-permanent rears its ugly head, Bladegriff Prototype is on hand to make a deal with another player. I've yet to see the card played, but the ability is unique and intrigues me. I have a feeling it's better than it looks.

Recruiter of the Guard
Guardian of Faith
Weathered Wayfarer

Our last batch of creatures play utility-support for the team. With Mono-White hurting for ramp, Weathered Wayfarer, Burnished Hart, Solemn Simulcrum, and Loyal Warhound are vital to keep us on track. Recruiter of the Guard certainly helps us find them, though her talents are better applied to the troops further above. Finally, Guardian of Faith provides a wonderful budget-Teferi's Protection and pairs very well with the aforementioned Myojin of Cleansing Fire.

Crackdown
Aurification
Karmic Justice

Beautiful Intrigue: Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker's army of supporters is only the first in her line of defenses. We represent her diplomatic tutelage via kingdom-controlling mandates: Artifacts and Enchantments that lock up the board. Mystic Barrier, Righteous Aura, Crackdown, Ghostly Prison, That Which Was Taken, and Martial Impetus make it more difficult or less attractive for opposing forces to attack us. If enemies do decide to meddle in our affairs, cards like Aurification, Karmic Justice, Martyr's Bond promise swift retribution for such affronts.

Ornate Kanzashi
Chaos Wand
Mirage Mirror

Meanwhile, while our opponents see only our walls, we've begun to use their own tools against them. Fixing provided by Smothering Tithe, Prismatic Lens, Tendo Ice Bridge, Vivid Meadow or even an enemy rock copied off of Sculpting Steel or Mirage Mirror allows you to steal cards via the insidious Ornate Kanzashi. The Kanzashi also allows you to play opposing lands revealed, further helping with color-fixing. Granted, you could avoid these hoops entirely via Chaos Wand, though that'll only net you Instants and Sorceries. Bloodthirsty Blade may not allow you to outright steal an enemy creature, but it ensures it'll keep its blade pointed squarely at other players.

Sensei's Divining Top
Scroll Rack
Mazemind Tome

Mono-White struggles with card draw, so we'll bring aboard powerful sources of Artifact-based card advantage. Sensei's Diving Top, Scroll Rack, Mazemind Tome, Treasure Map, Mind's Eye, and Endless Atlas all provide repeatable sources of card selection and/or advantage to keep resources in stock.

Enlightened Tutor
Open the Vaults
Cleansing Meditation

Finally, with such heavy Artifact/Enchantment support, we employ tools to synergize. Enlightened Tutor and Idyllic Tutor fetch up whatever's most needed, be it powerful lockdown or humble ramp. Open the Vaults and Trumphant Reckoning provide miraculous recoveries after sweepers. Speaking of which, Cleansing Meditation is a great way to remove enemy enchantments while often bringing ours right back into play.

Final Judgment
Winds of Abandon
Vanquish the Horde

Supporting Spells: Having built our castle walls high, we now turn to utility spells for further support. Targeted removal comes in the form of Swords to Plowshares, Generous Gift, and our segue-to-sweepers Winds of Abandon. Alongside this Overloaded spell, we include Hour of Revelation, Vanquish the Horde, Austere Command, and the thematically-fitting Final Judgment.

Storm Herd
Court of Grace

Once board control has been established and/or we've dropped a sweeper or two, we can close things out via Storm Herd and Court of Grace to fly overhead with evasive damage.

Extraplanar Lens
Archaeomancer's Map
Smothering Tithe

Ramp and Lands: Much like our Toshiro Umezawa build, we've brought in Extraplanar Lens plus Snow-Covered Plains to amplify our mana while denying opponents the benefit. Staples Land Tax, Archaeomancer's Map and Smothering Tithe are excellent inclusions that can quickly gift you great boatloads of mana. And naturally, classic rocks like Pearl Medallion, Sol Ring, Prismatic Lens, and Everflowing Chalice are included to round out our ramp.

Buried Ruin
War Room
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea

Other than our Snow-Covered Plains, we include utility lands to increase card draw (War Room, Mikokoro, Center of the Sea) and help us recur fallen artifacts (Buried Ruin). Eiganjo Castle is also brought as a thematic and opportunity-cost free defensive ability. The walls of Eiganjo Castle seem well protected, but will it be enough from the kami forces creeping in?

Kami of the Painted Road by Ron Spencer

Kami: Making players say "WTF is that!?" years before the Eldrazi showed up.

Now that the battlegrounds are set, I leave the resulting war up to you. Do the self-interests of a twisted ronin leave Kamigawa to fend for itself, or will a dark hero find a purpose? Can a hopeful optimist save her people from spectral oblivion, or is it already too late? These are questions for you to decide via your gameplay!

And so wraps up another ink-etched adventure. We'll continue to explore new realms and legends in future installments, and if you've any recommendations or requests, feel free to let me know in the comments. What characters and stories would you like to see next?

Thanks for reading, and may your wits always save you from peril!

Or you could just find a kick-ass Jitte to carry around. That works, too.

-Matt Lotti-

@Intrepid_Tautog

Limited time 30% buy trade in bonus buylist